By Raina Telgemeier
Scholastic Graphix, 240 pages, $10.99/$24.99
Raina Telgemeier has built a fine career for herself as a graphic novelist, she cut her teeth on adapting four of the Babysitter’s Club novels before creating her own original works, beginning with Smile. Now, with her fourth offering, she is an acclaimed New York Times Best Seller and this work is receiving a 500,000 copy first printing.
The secret to her justified success is that her work is accessible and identifiable. She takes the basic elements of teen life, such as receiving braces or dealing with siblings, and turns them into refreshing stories that can ease discomfort or bring simple entertainment. Her fluid, cartoon-style also make the characters fun and easily identifiable, her worlds recognizable, and her pages flow easily from one to the next, never losing the narrative thread.
This time around, she uses inspiration from the time she lived in Northern California and her fascination with the Mexican Day of the Dead celebration to create an original story about, once more, sisters. The family has relocated up the coast to Bahía de la Luna in the hopes the foggy, cooler climate will help Maya, the younger of the two, breathe easier. Born with cystic fibrosis, she has not had an easy time of it, although her unbridled zest for life, has not slowed her down too much. The story, though, is narrated by older sister Catrina, a teenager who loves her sister and still feels weighed down by her.
The relationship between the siblings forms the core of the novel as both are plunged into this new town and its largely Hispanic populace, which honors their ancestors with shrines and happily anticipates seeing them each Halloween at the Day of the Dead party. This is a world that accepts the supernatural and people interact with ghosts without fear, something the girls both need to learn. Their guide in this is Carlos, their neighbor and Ghost Tour guide, who is friendly to both but definitely finds a spark in Catrina, something she is slow to recognize or embrace.
While Maya readily accepts the spirits, her body weakens and her struggles impact Cat’s outlook on the town and their spectral residents. Her conflicted nature towards Maya feels real and Telgemeier mines this incredibly well.
Interestingly, she includes sketches from 2008 when she first began thinking about this story. There’s recognizable linework but her work has simplified and evolved since then. Her work is strong, aided by colorist Braden Lamb, resulting in a very satisfying and emotionally uplifting story that should entertain readers of all ages.